Kavasserry Sheshayyar – linking Tamil and Malayalam literatures

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Express press service

KOZHIKODE: With five years left before the end of his tenure, Kavasserry Sheshayyar Venkitachalam’s decision to voluntarily retire from the State Bank of India was due to one reason only: the letters appeal. And at 56, he plunges headlong into the world of literature. Two decades later, he was prolific as a translator. So far, he has translated 31 books into Malayalam – 26 from Tamil and the rest from English.
“Translation is a silent cultural activity,” says Venkitachalam.

“The translator goes through the varied experiences of another cultural sphere and recreates them in today’s world by doing justice to the original text.” The resident of Karapparamba says translating a local dialect without losing meaning in the targeted cultural milieu is the biggest challenge. Citing an example, he points out: “When we say ‘avail anke poyirunthalaam’ in Tamil, it should be translated as ‘availing poyirunnuvathre’ in Malayalam. Without the ‘athre’, we lack tone.

On the contrary, Venkitachalam’s life was dedicated to bridging the gap between Tamil and Malayalam literature. His Malayalam translations include Kambar’s ‘Kamba Ramayanam’, Ramana Maharshi’s ‘Aaraanu Njaan’, Jayakanthan’s ‘Agraharathile Poocha’, Perumal Murugan’s ‘Theranjedutha Kathakal’ and S Ramakrishnan’s ‘Upa Pandavam’, among others. In recognition of his contributions, Venkitachalam received the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award and the Nalli Thisai Ettum Award, both in 2017. While four of his translations are expected to hit the market soon, he is working on two more books. Among them is Judge Chandru’s book.

Although born in Kozhikode, Venkitachalam’s mother tongue is Tamil, which helps him convey the cultural essence of the original Malayalam text without losing its tone. He says the Madurai dialect gave him the biggest headache. Another duty for a translator is ongoing communication with the author to ensure nothing gets lost in the translation, he says. “After I finished a piece of work, I would read it in front of the author in the presence of a Malayalam follower.”

Besides literature, single Venkitachalam loves travel, music and the company of friends. His family members call him “Sethu”, a name the legendary MT Vasudevan Nair also uses to address him, after the protagonist of MT’s acclaimed novel “Kaalam”. He says he is more comfortable reading a book while holding it in his hands than on an e-reader, and writing on paper rather than using any digital device. He also has another dream. “I have written almost 25 short stories in Malayalam, which have not been published. I hope the collection will soon reach the hands of readers.

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